A Local Christmas... commentary from Jenny Philips

A Local Christmas... commentary from Jenny Philips

Jones County, NC – It was Christmas, 1989. My sister Liza in Denver bought a special present for me. She wrapped it up and mailed it off. She was sure I would smile when I opened it.
I bought a special present for Liza. I wrapped it up and mailed it off. I was sure she would smile when she opened it.
We were both right. We opened our presents Christmas morning and discovered with rueful laughter that we had uncannily bought the same gift for each other at Pier One and mailed it thousands of miles. Both of us had bought a bright green and red watermelon try made in china. The watermelon slice had reminded us of our childhood in the south. We both felt stupid.
What a weird coincidence! But I was determined that this would never happen again. I began to buy only locally made goods for gifts: hand carved toys, hand-knitted sweaters, Trent Wood pecan halves.
The quest for uniquely North Carolina presents has sent me to the Annual Crafts fair at the fairgrounds, to the New Bern farmers' market, and to the many church Christmas bazaars. I have always found clever, well- made gifts for every one, and I have met and praised many proud, skilled crafters.
One year I bought an astonishing wooden child's desk that folded up like ship cabinetry and had a satin finish. It was the pride of its designer and maker, a retired Marine. He was so happy to sell on. (In the context of the craft fair it was expensive.) And I was delighted to buy this beautiful and elegant desk for my grand daughter. It is a true heirloom.
Another year I bought many pieces of intricate jig-saw art, The old man and his wife agreed that he just loved the taste of sawdust in his mouth, and they were tickled I liked his work so much. It was a big sale for them, and they were very pleased. The same amount spent at the mall wouldn't have been noticed.

Here are other treasures from the fair: reversible cloth bowls invented by a Marine wife and her mother, plastic stained-glass butterflies made out of big Pepsi bottles, baskets that I had the weaver sign because they were works of art, even if she didn't think of herself as a artist, and my favorite, a ten inch tall stuffed crocheted Nativity scene complete with wise men and sheep, executed with enormous care and skill and simply amazing but hovering somewhere between folk art and blasphemy.
The church bazaars offer lots of Christmas stuff: Santas made out of oyster shells or peanuts, Angels made from gilded okra pods or cotton bolls, exquisite crocheted lace snowflakes and dolls, brooches made from safety pins and tiny beads. The church ladies couldn't be nicer and work all year on their projects, "turning time into money" as one told me about her "busy work" There may be wild grape jam and fig preserves and homemade fudge. There is always that ingenuity of "taking a little bit of nothing" and making something beautiful or clever. And all for charity.
The many antique and second hand shop are also great sources of unique gifts like a one-of-a- kind rhinestone pin, a cut crystal water carafe, an old souvenir bank, or a cunning hand mirror. This is "previously loved" stuff that carries an aura of preciousness and untold stories, and once I choose something there are never a dozen just like it waiting for the next shopper.
The local Chambers of Commerce have been urging us to shop at neighborhood stores this Christmas to help our local economy. I second that iIdea and urge face to face commerce with the person who made the gift or collected the object. It is great fun and will take you to places you otherwise wouldn't go to meet people you otherwise wouldn't meet. You are sure to find your own special gifts. And I know that whatever I buy for my sister Liza, I am sure she won't be sending the same thing to me!